Starving for goals

Going into the season, offense was something that many did not project to be a problem for the Hurricanes this year. They had one of the best first lines in the NHL and an expensive forward corps filled with players who could put the puck in the back of the net. Factor in Ryan Murphy making the team, and the Hurricanes were poised to be a strong club offensively and getting back to what worked for them in the first half of last season.

We are now 17 games into the season and the Hurricanes currently rank second to last in total goals and are averaging only 1.84 goals per game, which is ahead of only the Philadelphia Flyers and the Buffalo Sabres. The stats get even worse as you dig deeper, as the Canes have scored three or more goals in only four games and their leading goal-scorer, Nathan Gerbe, has a total of four goals. Take away their numbers at special teams and the Hurricanes have scored only 21 five-on-five goals in over 781 minutes, which obviously isn't going to get the job done unless they can get elite goaltending out of Justin Peters, Cam Ward and/or Anton Khudobin.

The Hurricanes aren't the only team going through scoring woes right now, but with a tough slate of games ahead, they are going to need to get some more goal support than they have recently. Head coach Kirk Muller doesn't seem to be too worried about this, though. He recently stated in an interview that the team has focused on improving their play away from the puck & getting better defensively but the system is the same as it was last year. He also stated that they are getting the same chances that they were last year but they just need to "finish" better.

Muller has some reasons to be confident. The Hurricanes have been a mediocre team in terms of territorial play, sitting at 16-18th in Corsi Percentage for most of the year, but their team shooting percentage isn't going to hover around 5-6% either. Unless the play of Semin, the Staal brothers and Skinner completely falls off, the Hurricanes still possess some decent scorers in the lineup and are too good to be a team that scores on only 5-6% of the shots they take. Muller's focus on improving the team's defensive play may have hurt Carolina's territorial game a little but it isn't the only reason for them being unable to buy a goal right now. 

The main thing that Muller emphasized in that interview was that the team needed to "finish" better. I always wonder how much players have control over this because while there are some forwards who possess a high amount of scoring ability (Steven Stamkos, Alex Tanguay, etc.), goals are often the product of good luck. Sometimes a player can make a "perfect" shot and be robbed by the goaltender while other times they might beat the goaltender but have their shot go off the goal-post or deflect wide. Those who are more fortunate might get credited with a goal after a shot deflects off them and into the net or after catching the goaltender napping. It's easy to get tied up in a player's goal total and say that he isn't trying but goals often come as the result of random events so it's not the best way to fully judge their value.

That said, goals are what ultimately wins you games and the Hurricanes big guns are currently stuck in a rut right now. The general sense is that as long as they are creating chances, they should start to see some better results because the team isn't going to continue to shoot at such a low percentage for the remainder of the year. Who on the Hurricanes is creating the most chances and is more likely to see their luck turn around? We'll look at both questions after the jump.

Hurricanes Shooting Stats

Player Shots/60 Chances/60 Sh% Chance% Finish% Shot Att/60
Jeff Skinner 14.04 10.916 8.3% 77.8% 10.7% 22.22
Chris Terry 9.45 7.087 0.0% 75.0% 0.0% 14.17
Eric Staal 9.85 6.179 5.1% 62.7% 8.1% 16.87
Alexander Semin 8.35 5.739 6.3% 68.8% 9.1% 20.52
Patrick Dwyer 8.30 5.709 0.0% 68.8% 0.0% 14.79
Nathan Gerbe 10.52 5.063 7.4% 48.1% 15.4% 15.77
Jiri Tlusty 7.12 4.896 9.4% 68.8% 13.6% 12.02
Jordan Staal 5.78 3.796 6.3% 65.6% 9.5% 12.47
Drayson Bowman 5.69 3.555 6.3% 62.5% 10.0% 15.28
Riley Nash 3.82 3.549 7.1% 92.9% 7.7% 6.55
Brett Sutter 7.92 2.881 0.0% 36.4% 0.0% 10.08
Tuomo Ruutu 5.07 2.535 0.0% 50.0% 0.0% 9.78
Elias Lindholm 3.61 2.060 14.3% 57.1% 25.0% 7.73
Radek Dvorak 4.02 2.008 25.0% 50.0% 50.0% 7.03
Manny Malhotra 2.72 1.815 33.3% 66.7% 50.0% 5.45
Andrej Sekera 4.37 1.205 6.9% 27.6% 25.0% 9.94
Ryan Murphy 5.41 1.158 7.1% 21.4% 33.3% 11.78
Brett Bellemore 3.96 1.057 0.0% 26.7% 0.0% 8.45
Ron Hainsey 3.68 0.701 9.5% 19.0% 50.0% 6.48
Justin Faulk 3.54 0.442 0.0% 12.5% 0.0% 11.05
Mike Komisarek 0.00 0.000 0 0 0 7.01
Tim Gleason 5.54 0.000 0.0% 0.0% 0 9.70
Kevin Westgarth 4.88 0.000 0.0% 0.0% 0 9.76
Jay Harrison 4.42 0.000 5.6% 0.0% 0 9.82

Right off the bat, you can see how much Jeff Skinner is missed. He is a machine when it comes to creating offense and the Hurricanes simply anyone who can create chances at his rate. One would think that Semin or Eric Staal could do that but Skinner is kind of in a class of his own right now with these numbers. Nearly 80% of the shots he has taken this year have been scoring chances and he shoots the puck more often than anyone else on the team. He should give the team's forward corps a major jolt when he returns.

As for the guys who are actually healthy, the players who should see their goal totals increase very soon are Eric Staal & Alexander Semin. Staal has taken a lot of criticism, but he is creating chances at a very high rate and has typically been a good finisher over his career, so I think he'll begin to see more rewards soon. He is actually creating more chances than Semin, which is a little surprising because the latter is superior to him in terms of even strength play and offensive talent.

The reason why Semin is a little behidn in terms of creating changes is because most of his shot attempts have either missed the net or have been blocked. Only Alex Ovechkin has had more of his shots not get through and this has been very frustrating to watch for Hurricanes fans. Semin has done a lot of good things this year and has been arguably Carolina's best forward, but he seems a bit tenative when shooting the puck. Tripp Tracy has talked about how Semin needs to take more of his shots from within the faceoff circles and while I don't disagree with him, Semin shooting from everywhere isn't neccesarily a bad thing because that at least produces rebounds for Tlusty & Staal to cash in on. The only problem is that Semin is missing the net a little too much and he seems to be trying to hard to score at times. Whenever he takes a shot, he usually tries to pick a corner or look for a perfect opening instead of simply getting it on net, which is the better play 9/10 times. Semin is due for some bounces, but simplifying his game would help a lot.

Another player who is due for some better luck is Patrick Dwyer, who has no goals on 22 scoring chances this year. Playing on Jordan Staal's line will give most players some extra scoring opportunities and this has been true for both Dwyer & Nathan Gerbe this year. The strange things it that Dwyer has actually done a better job of getting to the scoring areas than Gerbe but hasn't seen any reward for it, at least not yet. Gerbe has played well and gets the puck on net any chance he can get, but this shows that he takes a lot of low-percentage shots. However, that may not be a bad thing if he continues to play on a line with Jordan since he picks up a lot of his goals by driving the net. Speaking of which, Jordan should really shoot the puck more. That or the team needs to give him a right winger who isn't a career 5% shooter.

Another player who would benefit from shooting the puck more is Riley Nash, although that might be hard for him to do with his line getting destroyed territorially the last few weeks. Still, when Nash gets the puck on net, it's usually from a scoring area and he seems to be very good at crashing the net & deflecting in rebounds. If he is reunited with Skinner in the near future, I would expect his offense and all-around play to improve. Right now, however, I don't see him doing much, especially with Tuomo Ruutu struggling.

Let's all take a minute to reflect on Radek Dvorak's stats. He has taken only 12 shots on the year, six of which were scoring chances, and has found the back of the net three times. Two of those goals came off very fluky bounces and while I'm not complaining, it does show an example of how random goal-scoring can be. Ron Hainsey having two goals despite shooting the puck less than almost anyone else on the team is also evidence of this.

Overall, I think some of the Hurricanes players should begin to find the back of the net soon, as Staal, Semin, Dwyer & Gerbe are shooting the puck too much to go unrewarded forever. Getting Skinner back would help too but that goes without saying.

There is a lot more that they can do, though and I think it goes back to playing more of a simple game in the offensive zone. Dvorak's goal against the Islanders and Tlusty's goal against the Wild are good examples of that. Teams like the Kings have had success by playing this type of game and I would like to see the Hurricanes do more of it. Getting the puck on net is never a bad play and some players on the Hurricanes would really benefit from doing that more often.